Designing from the Rural

One of the academic fields that I regularly contribute to and engage with is human-computer interaction, a discipline at the intersection of computer science, behavioral science, and design. HCI programs at universities don’t only produce research, but also user experience professionals, designers, data scientists, software engineers, and many others. The primary magazine that serves this interdisciplinary community, Interactions, has an article this month, Designing from the Rural, written by myself, Chanda Phelan, Morgan Vigil-Hayes, Norman Makoto Su, Susan Wyche, and Phoebe Sengers.

In the article, we argue that the time is ripe for the radical foregrounding of rural computing. By rural computing, we mean understanding, designing, and building computing technologies that are particular to the needs, aspirations, and practices of rural communities around the world. As researchers and professionals tasked to influence the design and use of sociotechnical systems, we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that rurality is well represented in design insights. In doing so, our article argues for a recentering of rural areas; we seek to design from the rural rather than for the rural (from the urban perspective). We emphasize that the design problems of the rural merit more than urban hand-me-down solutions.

You can read and download the article here for free in PDF or HTML.

Interactions – July-August 2019

New research on cultural information literacy out in Information, Communication & Society

I have a new journal article out in Information, Communication & Society, one of the most prestigious and high-impact journals for research in Information and Communication Studies. The article, titled “Queer Information Literacies: Social and Technological Circulation in the Rural Midwestern United States,” explores the information landscape of rural LGBTQ people. You can read it here. Email me if you don’t have institutional access to it and I’m happy to provide a link for a free download from the publisher.

The article is based off of ethnographic fieldwork with rural LGBTQ people in the Upper Midwestern United States. In it, I document the various information sources, both digital and analog, that rural LGBTQ people use and the relationships between those information sources. I argue that circulation through different kinds of information sources leads to the creation of different understandings of what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ community. This difference in understanding LGBTQ identity and community is particularly impactful in rural communities, who naturally have much smaller populations of LGBTQ people. When these differences in understanding lead to conflict in rural places, it has an outsized impact in those communities.

Through all of this, I propose the concept of queer information literacy: a process through which LGBTQ people find, recognize, share, and create information related to their sexual and gender identities. Queer information literacy reframes information literacy to be seen as a cultural process of coming to understand one’s identity, rather than a process of learning and teaching normally associated with institutions (e.g., colleges and libraries).

I believe that this concept (and the paper more broadly) has a lot to offer research in many fields that deal with information, media, and rurality. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested in talking about it. I’m happy to chat more about the paper and my ongoing research with rural LGBTQ people in the Midwest.

Two short papers accepted for DIS 2019

I’m happy to announce that I had two short papers accepted for the 2019 ACM conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS).

The first paper, titled “Participatory Design and the Future of Rural LGBTQ Communities,” documents preliminary results from a series of participatory design workshops. It describes the LGBTQ Futures Project, a collaborative and community-based research project that uses participatory design to understand how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in rural places experience community and technology. We highlight the resource needs among our participants, how they differ between rural students and non-students, and how rural LGBTQ people envision the future of social technology that is designed explicitly for their needs. You can take a gander at the PDF pre-print here.

The second paper, titled “How the Design of Social Technology Fails Rural America,” is a “provocation” (a unique paper style for this conference) and argues that, unless we abandon growth and scalability as metrics of success in social technologies, we will never be able to appropriately design for rural places. You can see the PDF pre-print here.

Attending iConference 2019

Hey y’all,

I’m looking forward to attending the iConference next week (March 31-April 3) in College Park, Maryland. The iConference is the annual meeting of the iSchools Organization, the collective of schools, colleges, and departments doing work in areas related to information science, library science, informatics, and information technology. I’ll be taking part in the day-long Doctoral Colloquium on Sunday, where I’ll be presenting and getting feedback from peers and faculty mentors on my ongoing dissertation research. I’ll be sticking around through Wednesday to listen to all the great talks and meet friends a new faces from iSchools all around the world, so if you see me, say hi!

How Rural America is Saving Itself

Another think piece on rural America popped up in the New York Times a couple weeks ago. As you’d expect, it painted a picture of rural areas as backwards, behind the times, and unable to catch up or keep up with the needs of a supposedly tech-dominated economy. I wrote a bit of a tweet-storm, which was picked up by some folks over at The Atlantic, who asked me to expand on it for an article on their CityLab site. I was more than happy to oblige.

Read it here: “How Rural America is Saving Itself”

“Rural Computing: Beyond access & infrastructure” workshop at CSCW 2018

Hello all,

I’ve been busy leading the organizing (with Dharma Dailey, Susan Wyche, and Norman Makoto Su) of a workshop being held at CSCW 2018 in Jersey City, NJ on November 4. The workshop, titled “Rural Computing: Beyond access & infrastructure,” is going to be an amazing opportunity to bring together researchers who are currently doing research in and on rural communities and their uses of technology. Head on over to our website (www.ruralhci.info) to check out the agenda and participants (and their papers). We’ll likely be organizing some sort of follow-up activities and/or publication opportunities, so if you are interested in being involved, shoot me an email (jkhardy@umich.edu).